The Benefits of Making Field Building a Team Sport

This past summer, at the first ever Jewish Outdoor, Food, Farming, and Environmental Education (JOFEE) gathering at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center, a group of practitioners and foundation professionals came together around the shared purpose of building the field.

The Jim Joseph Foundation already shared some of the innovative learning and professional development that occurred, which certainly will help the field grow and mature. But another aspect of this gathering warrants an examination, because while at face value this type of gathering is not unique, a gathering that included such diverse funders is. Moreover, we were not there merely as listeners or as observers of a conference, our group of funders joined with practitioners for focused and deliberate visioning and networking conversations. 

The gathering included the Jim Joseph Foundation and representatives from the Atlanta Jewish Federation, Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies, Gendler Grapevine, the Leichtag Foundation, the Lucious Littauer Foundation, Hazon, Pearlstone Center, Urban Adamah, and Wilderness Torah.  Just as each practitioner represented a different organization in this space—all of which complimented each other while not entirely duplicating efforts—each of the funders had a unique justification for its funding in this space.  So how did we all end up there together?

Inherently, while all the organizations at that first meeting to some degree address farming, food justice, the environment, and other kinds of Jewish outdoor educational interventions, there are important strategic differences to recognize. Whereas the Emanuel J. Friedman Philanthropies (founders of Jewish Initiative for Animals) and the Leichtag Foundation (founders of the Coastal Roots Farm) see JOFEE funding as a way of furthering combined environmental, humanistic, and Jewish educational missions, for example, the Jim Joseph Foundation sees this investment primarily as a means to funding its strategic priorities of educating Jewish educators and expanding opportunities for effective Jewish learning. 

By making space for funders with different strategies and missions to come together, the field displayed a strength (and a potential for even greater impact) only possible by bringing together all of the issue areas of JOFEE. There are many benefits from this collaboration, and important lessons:

  • Field leaders can engage more people in Jewish learning and experiences because an individual will opt in even if just one part of JOFEE resonates with her or him. Yet, once they do, they open themselves up to other elements of JOFEE that may pique their interest and offer new ways to engage in Jewish life.
  • Since JOFEE essentially brings together even smaller, narrower fields under one umbrella, the environment is ripe for experimentation, creativity, and collaborative Jewish education and engagement efforts.
  • A field with “collaboration” as an organizing principle helps to overcome the issue of funders and practitioners being siloed based on specific foci that do not equate to the exact priorities of others in a similar space of the same field. Instead, the gathering’s diverse group of funders and practitioners hypothesized together about a shared set of outcomes that were part of a burgeoning 2022 Visioning Statement for the JOFEE field.
  • As a result of those first conversations at the gathering, each funder began to understand that individual foundation priorities are part of a larger vision that could increase the overall influence that the organizations in that room have on the broader community. Despite the differences in the organizations represented, each of the individuals in the room felt vested in the ultimate well-being of both the Jewish community and the underlying eco-concerns. 

As the Jim Joseph Foundation has discussed, collaboration comes with real challenges. Yet time and again we see that the benefits—creative initiatives, greater reach, more opportunities to scale and to become sustainable—outweigh these challenges. A single funder has a ceiling on the amount of long-term success it achieves on its own. I am grateful to have been included in this initial gathering on behalf of the Jim Joseph Foundation, and to Hazon for assembling this group. The field is stronger as a result.

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